Tag Archives: Benjamin Franklin

On a Life Well Spent by Cicero


  1. Cicero gives us some wisdom about how to age gracefully and live a life worth living so that when we’re older, we can look back and take joy in what we’ve done

Key Takeaways

  1. The best armor of old age is a well spent life preceding it; a life employed in the pursuit of useful knowledge, in honorable actions and the practice of virtue; in which he who labors to improve himself from his youth, will in age reap the happiest fruits of them; not only because these never leave a man, not even in the extremest of old age, but because a conscience bearing witness that our life was well spent, together with the remembrance of past good actions, yields an unspeakable comfort to the soul
  2. I have known several who have lived to be very old, without complaining at all; for they appeared not only easy, but pleased at their being delivered from the tyranny of their former youthful passions
  3. A calm contemplative life, or a life well and virtuously spent in the just discharge of one’s immediate duty in any station, will ever be attended with a serenity of mind
  4. How do the lawyers, the pontiffs, the augurs, and the philosophers, who live to a great age? Men will retain their understanding and abilities, while they continue their application and diligence
  5. And I must ever think, that all those who spend their time in improving others in knowledge, and teaching the nobler arts, when their natural strength of body fails them, are entitled to our highest regard and esteem
  6. We must prepare ourselves, my friends, against old age; and as it is advancing, endeavor by our diligence to mitigate and correct the natural infirmities that attend it: we must use proper preservatives, as we do against diseases; great care must, in the first place, be taken of our health; all bodily exercise must be moderate, and especially our diet; which out to be of such a kind, and in such proportion, as may refresh and strengthen nature, without oppressing it. Nor must our care be confined to our bodies only; for the mind requires much more, which without it will not only decay, but our understanding will as certainly die away in old age, as a lamp not duly supplied with oil. The body, we know, when overlabored, becomes heavy, and, as it were, jaded; but ’tis exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor
  7. I read much Greek and, agreeable to the Pythagorean Precept, the better to exercise my memory, I recollect at night what I have heard, said, or done in the day
  8. ‘Tis owned, that the most noble and excellent gift of heaven to man, is his reason: and ’tis as sure, that of all the enemies of reason has to engage with, pleasure is the most capital, and the most pernicious
  9. But I am now come to speak of the pleasure of a country life, with which I am infinitely delighted. To these, old age is never an obstruction. It is the life of nature, and appears to me the exactest plan of that which a wise man ought to lead. Here our whole business is with the earth, the common parent of us all, which is never found refractory, never denies what is required of it, nor fails to return back what is committed to it with advantage, sometimes indeed with less, but generally with a very large interest
  10. Yet in all I have said, I desired to be understood to mean the old age of such persons only, as have in their youth laid solid foundations for esteem in advancing years; for on no other terms ought we to expect it. And hence it was, that what I once said in a public speech, met with so general an applause, when I observed, that miserable was that man’s old age who needed the help of oratory to defend him. Grey hairs and wrinkles avail nothing to confer the authority I am here speaking of: it must be the result of a series of good actions, and nothing but a life honorably and virtuously led, thro’ all the advancing steps of it, can crown old age with this blessed harvest of its past labors
  11. We ought all to be content with the time and portion assigned to us. No man expects of any one actor on the theater that he should perform all the parts of the piece himself: one role only is committed to him, and whatever that be, if he acts it well, he is applauded. In the same manner, it is not the part of a wise man, to desire to be busy in these scenes to the last plaudit. A short term may be long enough to live it well and honorably; and if you hold it longer, when past the first stages, you ought no more to grieve that they are over, than the husbandman repines that the spring is past, and the summer heats come on; or after these, the more sickly autumn
  12. The best fruits of old age are the recollecting and feeding of the remembrance of that train and store of good and virtuous deeds, of which, in the course of life, we laid in a kind of provision
  13. Thus old people, for the little remainder of life that is left them, should stand loose and indifferent, neither anxious to have it prolonged, nor precipitantly or without just cause to shorten it; remembering the precept of Pythagoras, that no man should quit his post, but at the command of his general, that is, God himself. And in regard to those we are to leave behind us, tho’ some have commended Solon for saying – he wish’d not to die unadorned and unlamented by his friends; in which his sense doubtless was, that he desired while he lived to be loved and valued by them; yet I know not but that of Ennius is altogether as just, let none with tears or sighs my funeral grace: For his meaning was, that death crown’d with immortality, ought by no means to be lamented
  14. While we are closed in these mortal frames, our bodies, we are bound down to a law of necessity. But our minds are of a heavenly original, descended from the blissful seats above.
  15. When the mind is wholly freed from all corporeal mixture, and begins to be purified, and recover itself again; then, and then only, it becomes truly knowing and wise
  16. Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others

What I got out of it

  1. Live a life that when you’re on your deathbed looking back, you’re proud of. You have to do this proactively or else it’ll be too late. Be interested rather than interesting (as John Gardner would say), learn, meet new people, do things which excite you and add meaning to the world

Poor Richard’s Almanack by Benjamin Franklin

  1. A compilation of some of Benjamin Franklin’s best sayings
Key Takeaways
  1. Make haste slowly
  2. Little strokes, fell great oaks
  3. The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise
  4. Necessity never made a good bargain
  5. Beware of the young doctor and the old barber
  6. ‘Tis easy to see, hard to fooresee
  7. Hear Reason, or she’ll make you feel her
  8. Observe all men; thyself most
  9. Well done is better than well said
  10. The things which hurt, instruct
  11. Search for others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices
  12. Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one
  13. People who are wrapped up in themselves make small packages
  14. A little house well fill’d, a little field well till’d, and a little wife well will’d, are great riches
  15. Where there’s marriage without love, there will be love without marriage
  16. Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise
  17. Diligence is the mother of good luck
  18. If ou would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing
  19. ‘Tis easier to suppress the first Desire, than to satisfy all that follow it
  20. Content is the Philosopher’s Stone, that turns all it touches into Gold
  21. Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults
  22. A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough
  23. Vice knows she’s ugly, so puts on her Mask
  24. Pride breakfasted with Plenty, dined with Poverty, supped with Infamy
  25. The doors of wisdom are never shut
  26. How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them!
  27. Who has deceiv’d thee so oft as thy self?
  28. Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it
  29. The use of money is all the advantage there is in having money
  30. Wish not so much to live long, as to live well
  31. Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others
  32. Wink at small faults – remember thou hast great ones
  33. Each year one vicious habit rooted out, in time might make the worst man good throughout
  34. As pride increases, fortune declines
  35. When you speak to a man, look on his eyes; when he speaks to thee, look on his mouth
  36. You may be too cunning for one, but not for all
  37. Hide not your talents, they for use were made: what’s a sun-dial in the shade?
  38. Learn of the skillful: he that teaches himself, hath a fool for his master
  39. Well done, is twice done
  40. Promises may get thee friends, but non-performance will turn them into enemies
  41. He’s a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom
  42. Reading makes a full man – meditation a profound man – discourse a clear man
  43. Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself a slave to it
  44. He that cannot obey, cannot command
  45. The poor have little – beggars none; the rich too much – enough not one
  46. Eat to live; live not to eat
  47. The proof of gold is fire; the proof of woman, gold; the proof of man, a woman
  48. Keep conscience clear, then never fear
  49. Would you live with ease, do what you ought, and not what you please
  50. What is serving god? ‘Tis doing Good to Man
  51. Beware of little expenses: a small leak will sink a great ship
  52. He’s the best physician that knows the worthlessness of the most medicines
  53. There is no little enemy
  54. A quiet conscience sleeps in thunder, but rest and guilt live far asunder
  55. Let thy discontents be thy secrets; – if the world knows them ’twill despise thee and increase them
  56. It is not leisure that is not used
  57. If what most men admire they would despise, ‘Twould look as if mankind were growing wise
  58. Friendship increases by visiting friends, but by visiting seldom
  59. Neglect mending a small fault, and ’twill soon be a great one
  60. Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of
  61. When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water
  62. Most people return small favors, acknowledge middling ones, and repay great ones with ingratitude
  63. Don’t judge of men’s wealth or piety, by their Sunday appearances
  64. The wise and brave dares own that he was wrong
  65. The busy man has few idle visitors, to the boiling pot the flies come not
  66. Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards
  67. Praise little, dispraise less
  68. Friends are the true scepters of princes
  69. A full belly makes a dull brain
  70. A good example is the best sermon
  71. Wise men learn by other’s harms; fools by their own
  72. A wise man will desire no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly
  73. Plough deep while sluggards sleep; and you shall have corn to sell and to keep
  74. He that’s content hath enough. He that complains hath too mcuh
  75. Life with fools consist in drinking; with the wise man, living’s thinking
  76. Tell me my faults, and mend your own
  77. The wise man draws more advantage from his enemies, than the fool from his friends
  78. Men take more pains to mask than mend
  79. Dine with little, sup with less: do better still: sleep supperless
  80. Many foxes grow grey, but few grow good
  81. What signifies knowing the names, if you know not the nature of things
  82. Be not niggardly of what costs thee nothing, as courtesy, counsel, and countenance
  83. We keep the vices of others in sight; our own we carry on our backs
  84. Silence is not always a sign of wisdom, bu babbling is ever a folly
  85. A pair of good ears will drink dry a hundred tongeus
  86. Many complain of their memory, few of their judgement
  87. He that won’t be cousnell’d, can’t be help’d
  88. Fools need advice most, but only wise men are the better for it
  89. Sudden power is apt to be insolent, sudden liberty saucy; that behaves best which has grown gradually
  90. Clean your finger, before you point at my spots
  91. You can bear your own faults, and why not a fault in your wife
  92. Teach your child to hold his tongue, he’ll learn fast enough to speak
  93. Who is strong? He that can conquer his bad habits
What I got out of it
  1. Friends are so important, equanimity vital, small things matter, humility above all else, moderation in all, knowledge and mastery of self

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

  1. Isaacson does an amazing job of recounting Franklin’s impressive life and how it helped shape America’s values and character. Franklin rose through the ranks to become one of the world’s most foremost scientist, writer, inventor, diplomat and political leader.
Key Takeaways
  1. Benjamin Franklin was a scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, author, political thinker and more. He was one of the most illustrious Renaissance men ever
  2. Only man to shape all the founding documents of America – alliance with France, treaty with England, Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution
  3. Multitudes of inventions – stove, bifocals, 2 party legislature, electricity, and continually reinvented himself But maybe his most important invention was an American identity based on the virtues of the middle class
  4. Over anything else, he was pragmatic and wanted to do well unto others
  5. No really deep, long-term relationships and cannot be considered a great father or husband as he spent most of his time away from them
  6. Franklin was not very religious but preached tolerance of every sect
  7. He was like a chameleon who adapted to the times and the people/culture around him. His pragmatism, maxims, frugality and industriousness drew critics for its lack of romanticism but far more fans. His ideas were ripe for the period and increasingly so during the boom of the American economy and industrial revolution
What I got out of it
  1. So impressive to me how many different fields Franklin was successful in. He took practical and actionable steps in every one of these fields and I think that is what set him apart. He did not waste much time on theorizing or on other pursuits that would not have some immediate benefit.

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Mastery by Robert Greene

  1. A must read. Robert Greene details masters of the past and present – people who are exceptional at what they do, what their processes are and what they have in common
Key Takeaways:
  1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Mozart who was forced to play certain types of music by his father because the music would sell and they could make money. Mozart was very frustrated with this and eventually split from his father. When he did this it was as if all those years of tinkering and making every song he played “his” seeped into him and within a couple years wrote some of the classical songs that are still popular today. He had an explosion of creativity.
  2. Benjamin Franklin – Very interesting to learn about. I think Green described him sort of like a chameleon. Ben Franklin was so good at reading people and knowing what they were like and expected out of him that he would change how he acted around different people. I think I do this quite well too. For example, when Franklin went to France in order to gain support and funding for the American Revolution, he pissed off a lot of Americans because he was partying a lot and drinking a lot of wine, sort of being a playboy and living the high life. However, he did this with a purpose. He was loved by the French and he ended up getting huge support from France which otherwise the US would never have gotten. He played his audience! “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, become them, to see things from their point of view and what their intentions may be.” – Ben Franklin
  3. Albert Einstein – Worked at the patent office so that he could get paid a decent amount but still have sufficient time to work on his theories. He was speaking to a friend about giving up on what later became known as his Theory of Relativity and it suddenly clicked. Einstein always thought in terms of images and came up with many different thought experiments which helped him answer questions that changed the face of physics forever.
  4. Charles Darwin – Exceptional in his attention to detail and dedication. He spent 8 years studying barnacles to prove evolution. He went against what his dad wanted him to do and found his own path doing a combination of things he was very good and passionate about.
  5. Paul Graham – Founder of Y Combinator, hadn’t achieved much until his early 30’s and then created a company that he sold to Yahoo for tens of millions of dollars. He then though about a new concept to help startups acquire capital and this led to the birth of Y Combinator.
  6. Freddie Roach – Was a good boxer in his own right who worked with legendary boxing coach Eddie Futch. Futch’s style was a little impersonal and Roach improved on that by actually stepping into the ring and sparring with his boxers. This way he was able to feel his boxers, how hard they punched, their speed, etc. and could work on things in real time. Through this technique he took on Manny Pacquaio when many wouldn’t
  7. Santiago Calatrava – An architect who also went to engineering school and has designed some of the most famous buildings to date. Many of his buildings resemble animals
  8. Temple Grandin – Was born with autism but found a way to overcome it enough to go to school and graduate. She always felt a connection with animals and ended up designing more humane feed lots and slaughterhouses which make the cattle more comfortable and relaxed. She always enjoyed being squeezed and a she ended up designing a similar technique for cattle. She improved on this design and adjusted lighting and everything the cows saw so they would not get spooked. Her design is used in the majority of slaughterhouses today.
  9. Yoky Matsuoka – A Japanese engineer who created the industry standard for robotic hands. She trained for a while to be a professional tennis player. She specialized in creating more realistic prosthetics.
  10. VS Ramachandran – A neurobiologist who uses relatively simple experiments to measure and learn about the brain. He was able to help people with phantom limb syndrome, found mirror neurons and much else.
  11. Teresita Fernandez – A sculptor who became famous for her art made of metal (which when she started was not ever someone thought a woman could do) and now sits on the board of the Commission of Fine Arts). She worked through the night so that others would not distract her and people thought that her art just came so easily because they would show up the next day and this masterpiece would just appear. She first went with it but then thought that this carefree attitude could hurt her, especially because she is a woman. So, she took a much more intellectual and serious tone with her art and people realized how talented and dedicated she is.
  12. Cesar Rodriguez – Considered one of the best US Air Force pilots and came closer to becoming an ace than any other pilot since the Vietnam War. He was never as talented as the “Golden Boys” of the Air Force but he was so passionate and dedicated that he spent hours in the simulation machine and studying all he could that he eventually surpassed the Golden Boys. At one point he was able to watch a film of some maneuvers he had done to avoid being shot down and killed and had no idea where those thoughts came to him from. He dumped some fuel and flew high and barrel rolled and did all these thing subconsciously, but only because of the thousands of hours of training and thoughtful mastery.
  13. Daniel Everett – A missionary who went to Brazil to try to convert the Piraha people. Many others had tried but the Piraha’s language seemed incomprehensible. It did not follow typical language patterns and they thought it could not be cracked. Everett was quite close to giving up as well, feeling that they did not want him or his wife in their tribe anymore and one day the tribe actually looking for him to try to kill him. But, things turned when he actually went with the men on a hunt one day. The men communicated with each other through a series of whistles and clicks and other noises so that they could communicate seemlessly without scaring off animals or making other humans aware of their presence. Life for the Piraha was so fleeting, so dangerous, that their language did not incorporate any words for past or future events. Everything was in the now.
What I got out of it:
  1. A must read for anybody who is interested in reaching mastery in any given field. Greene uses such diverse examples that there is something to be gained regardless of your talents or goals. A good takeaway is that while there are certain steps that must be taken to reach mastery, each person can mold it to fit their talents, temperament and goals.